As with gambling addiction, video game addiction is a clinical impulse control disorder. According to psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, the criteria for video game addiction is the same as that for addiction to a substance. In both cases, the person requires more of the source as time goes on and becomes irritable and despondent when they cannot access it. In fact, video game addicts can even experience withdrawal symptoms.
Another clue that a person is addicted to video games, according to researchers at Kansas State University, is that they may play video games to alter their mood.
While the harm in addictions to substances is apparent in physical symptoms, it is often less clear with video game addiction. However, video game addiction can negatively affect a life in the same way a substance addiction can. Those who play for hours each day become withdrawn and isolated, foregoing work, school and other responsibilities to play. Younger addicts often miss out on critical education and important social development, while adults tend to experience deteriorating relationships and problems with their employers.
The physical effects of video game addiction include poor personal hygiene, hormonal disturbances from sleep deprivation, and what the American Physical Therapy Association refers to as video gamer’s thumb, a repetitive use injury characterized by tendonitis and swelling. Many addicted gamers gain weight as a result of their sedentary lifestyles and tendency to reach for high-calorie processed foods and beverages.
Some experts warn that excessive gaming can even be fatal. A tech-addiction expert in Seattle said she has known of people who have died from heart attacks and blood clots, both results of the unhealthy lifestyle many extreme gamers live.
The warning signs of video game addiction include:
Gaming to escape difficult life situations
Playing for longer periods as time goes on
Skipping showers and meals to play
Poor performance at work or school
Lying to others to hide gaming activities
Exhibiting signs of irritation when forced to stop gaming
Although the American Psychological Association has not yet classified video game addiction as a mental illness, many experts contend that the signs and symptoms of the problem are similar to those of compulsive disorders such as gambling and sex addiction.
What Causes Video Game Addictions?
Researchers are not certain what causes video game addiction; however, some experts believe that elevated dopamine levels contribute heavily to the problem. The neurotransmitter dopamine works in the brain’s reward center. It is released during activities most people find pleasurable, including eating and consuming certain drugs.
Therapists view all addictions as functioning essentially the same way. In the case of non-substance addictions, such as those to sex, gambling and gaming, the behavior takes the place of a substance. The action of playing generates a feeling of pleasure, which ensures the addict will repeat the action as often as possible.
In a report published by CBC News in April 2013, a gaming addiction expert said those with certain personality disorders or disabilities are at greater risk than others. She noted that people who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s are particularly susceptible to gaming addiction.
Those who study video game addiction also believe that the problem has a psychological component. They contend that compulsive gamers retreat to a fantasy world to escape their real-life troubles and unpleasant emotions. According to a recent report, 41 percent of those who play online video games indicated they game to escape from reality.
Is There a Cure for Video Game Addiction?
Treatment for video game addiction is similar to that for other addictions. Counseling and behavior modification are the primary means of treating addicted gamers. Together, individual and family counseling are powerful treatment tools. Some treatment facilities incorporate medication in their programs.
However, unlike drugs or alcohol, video games are tied to computers, which are a key part of life for most people. In that way, the addiction is similar to a food addiction. As a result, some treatment centers explore controlled use rather than abstinence.
No overall cure for video game addiction exists. As with alcoholism and drug addiction, the key is to enter treatment and to stay aware of triggers while continuing to participate in recovery groups, such as Online Gamers Anonymous.
Therapies for Video Game Addicts
Research on treatment for video game addiction is ongoing, but few clinical trials have been conducted in relation to the problem. Experts agree that the same treatments used for sufferers of other addictions appear to work for video game addicts. As a result, they generally recommend counseling and psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs and medication, either individually or in combination with other treatment methods.
One-on-one counseling and family counseling are both effective in treating a gaming addict. Psychotherapists attempt to help the addict understand how gaming is related to their school or job, emotions and moods, and sense of life goals and rewards.
Where 12-step programs are concerned, the primary resource available is Online Gamers Anonymous, a non-profit organization founded in 2002.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment
Many experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as the ideal treatment for video game addiction. The therapy allows the addict to shift their thoughts, replacing those that lead to compulsive gaming with healthier thinking patterns. As its name implies, cognitive behavioral therapy allows a person to modify their thoughts, feelings and ultimately behavior for the better.
Therapists consider addiction a belief or way of thinking that leads to irrational, often unhealthy behaviors. They start treatment by identifying and focusing on the thoughts that start the chain of addiction and help the addict begin their transition from there.
Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques include setting goals and then learning to overcome the thinking that sparks compulsive gaming.
Other Therapeutic Methods
Wilderness therapy is an alternative treatment for video game addiction. Proponents of the method contend that by removing the addict from the source of the addiction, the therapy offers the best chance of recovering. They also believe that placing addicts in a natural environment, free of the trappings and distractions of modern life, allows them to learn to be comfortable with their own emotions.
Residential Inpatient Gaming Addiction Treatment Centers
Inpatient treatment for addicted gamers is best for those who need to leave their environment altogether for a time in order to heal. Such treatment centers offer group therapy, individual counseling and a game-free atmosphere.
Some inpatient facilities offer private rooms, while some offer dorm-like accommodations. All these programs are designed to make the patient feel safe, comfortable and supported as they embark on a healing journey.
Once an addict has allowed their life opportunities to diminish by withdrawing entirely into the addiction, they have few options for overcoming the dependency on their own. This is where inpatient treatment facilities are a tremendous help. They help patients relearn healthy coping skills in a contained environment.